Third- and fourth-graders at LeConte Elementary School skipped their science, math and writing classes on Tuesday for a hands-on lesson in civic participation.
Starting at 8 a.m., the eight- and nine-year-olds were stationed outside the school’s election booths to conduct exit polls. Around 84 voters from the area were quizzed on whom they had chosen for California governor and Berkeley mayor and their stance on Measure A.
When the exit polls at LeConte closed after 1 p.m., the students were able to predict—albeit unscientifically—that Measure A would win by a large margin, which it did.
The exit polls also showed that Phil Angelides was ahead in the governor’s race with 69 percent of the total votes, and Peter Camejo was coming in second at 30 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not receive a single vote, according to the exit poll.
The poll also revealed that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates was winning 70 percent of the votes for mayor, with opponents Zelda Bronstein and Zachary Runningwolf getting 18 and 12 percent respectively. Mayoral candidate Christian Pecaut did not receive any votes in the poll.
Measure A received 97 percent of the total votes in the poll.
“This was the perfect opportunity to teach the kids about the structure of the American government and elections,” said Jen Corn, the third- and fourth-grade teacher who organized the activity. “We have been studying both these things for quite sometime in class now. This exercise will help the kids to receive first-hand citizenship education and prepare them to become future voters.”
Third-grader Elias Keen told the Planet that he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to vote.
“I have been learning a lot about Proposition 87, 86 and Measure J from all the signs and the ads,” he said. “I learned quite a bit about voting through the exit polls today.”
LeConte’s cooking teacher Brenna Turman said that the kids had acted very mature while asking questions.
“They did not get angry or excited when some of the voters told them that they had voted against Measure A,” she said. “Since they had been taught in class how important it was for Measure A to pass, I was afraid that they would get upset by the negative responses, but they behaved beautifully.”
Corn said that she had been planning and practicing with the classes about what to say for a long time.
“They had a lot of opinions and I had to really train them not to react. I told them that it was important to remain impartial observers only,” she said. “It was interesting to see how much information they had about the different election issues such as Prop. J or 87. I could clearly see that they were talking to their parents about them at home.”
Lila Bensky, a fourth-grade student, said that she was hoping that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lost.
“He always goes along with whatever President Bush does and President Bush is the one who arranged the war,” she said.
Susie Bluestone, Lila’s mother, said that the exit poll provided a great opportunity for the students to interact with community members.
“Measure A affects the children in a huge way. The neighbors were happy to see that the kids were so concerned about it,” she said.
The importance of Measure A was not lost on Lila either. “If Measure A does not pass, gardening, P.E. and music will all go bye-bye,” she said.
Corn told the Planet that she hopes to conduct a similar exit poll during the 2008 presidential elections.
“This is a small step in learning about democracy and how to become responsible voters,” she said. “I am hoping that in two years the kids will jump at the chance of doing something bigger.”